Long Island Cannabis Conversations – Part IV


In this series, we’ve explored how cannabis left its mark on Long Island (from Hempstead to the Hamptons), how the Shinnecock Nation plans to help bring medicinal and adult-use (or ‘recreational’) cannabis to Long Island residents, and how finding success with today’s legal market may have everything to do with real estate, regulations, and learning from history.

The first three parts of this four-part series also frequently made reference to the fact that cannabis is, in addition to being a source of protein and fiber and cultural mainstay, a powerful and generally safe source of medicine, with dozens of known medicinal applications and likely plenty more we don’t know about yet. This fact is evinced not just by bountiful contemporary testimony from patients and doctors across the country, or by the millions (if not billions) of dollars that big companies have poured into medicinal cannabis operations, but also by the fact that major American pharmaceutical players, as well as the United States federal government itself, have laid claim to the plant and its uses.

A 1913 product label describes Eli Lilly’s “Cannabis Americana” medicinal extract. (Credit: Patients Out Of Time)

To wit: for nearly 20 years, the National Institute of Health has held a patent on certain cannabinoids as related to their anti-inflammatory properties and capacity for treating oxidative stress in the body, as related to stroke, autoimmune disorders, aging, and so on. And in fact, our nation has known that cannabis is a medicine (and a relatively quite safe one, at that) for well over a hundred years, and yet has prohibited its use and sale since the 1930s, with dramatic impacts for patients, doctors, and medicine as a whole, and for the Black and brown communities who have consistently been criminalized over cannabis.

With that in mind, we’ll close our series with a few thoughts from legacy cannabis operator and advocate Julian Murray, co-founder of Vitabudz Organics, an advocacy and consulting firm doing the work of educating communities, promoting better products, and helping bring safe, effective, New York-grown cannabis products into legal retail stores right here in our region. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

On prohibition, opportunity, and self-education

“To keep it short, cannabis is life for me.”

“When I discovered cannabis, I learned how to focus. I used cannabis to calm down when I was one of those kids that couldn’t sit still; I got started when I was around 16 years old. So, I’ve always used cannabis as an aid to help me with my life, to get things done, to focus. That’s the main thing cannabis does for me: it calms me enough to focus. I started growing cannabis years ago, illegally of course: in closets first, then in basements next.”

“For me, New York cannabis is the first real opportunity for someone in my position to get into the cannabis industry. The roadblocks we ran into when we tried to do it in Colorado, and then in California, were financial. We don’t own land, so I could grow it in a closet, sure, but growing on the scale of the legal market was daunting, for somebody from my background. So, I look at New York as the first real opportunity for the small guy to get in there. They have a microbusiness license, a mentorship program that we joined… we believe in the [Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act] (MRTA), and want to see it really come forth.”

“When I started smoking, I knew it helped, but I didn’t know the medical reasoning. Once I started getting educated, meeting growers and farmers, that’s when things really took off, and when it stuck with me that maybe my role is not just to get high and tell people when their weed is trash, that maybe I could explain to them why this or that weed is better, and try to share education with my community. That’s really how Vitabudz came about. We delivered information and education, and we also brought the weed.”

Julian Murray, co-founder of Vitabudz Organics.

“I think the only way to win this war is to educate people. It should have never been illegal in the first place, and giant miseducation was put out there, and people bought it, so they need to be reeducated. This plant is medicine.”

“I can’t even blame the people anymore. I’ve talked to enough of them who feel that this plant is harmful. All you can say is, educate yourself, open a book. I can’t change your opinion about cannabis. You have to change your opinion.”

On the licensing lawsuit(s) and unlicensed shops

“All of these lawsuits are really nitpicking. [Plaintiffs] don’t like the fact that the state opened up conditional licensing before they opened it up for everybody. I understand the reasons for their complaints, but I also understand that the state was throwing a bone, with conditional growing licenses, to the farmers who held it down in New York with hemp for ten years, trying to get weed legal. And it’s the same with the CAURD licenses: these are the people who were being arrested on the front lines.”

“I think we all really need to read the regulations, because that’s the most important part. I do think that the law takes care of most people with the way the regulations are written.”

“I do feel like a lot of people have joined on without knowing the history, thinking they could make a bunch of money or that it’s cool… but if you know the history, you should expect this lawsuit. You should expect that Nassau County will opt out. You should expect that people will get behind veterans [for the first round of conditional licenses] before minorities, women, and other impacted groups [targeted for equity with Conditional Adult Use Retail Dispensary (CAURD) licenses].”

“What I hope is that people don’t give up. I’ve seen the CAURD guys getting together at the courthouse and making their voices heard, and that’s what they need to do.”

Vitabudz co-founder Julian Murray getting his hands dirty on a New York farm. (Courtesy of Julian Murray)

“Me personally, I would never buy from any of those [unlicensed] shops. I would rather buy from an individual I have known to be about cannabis forever: ‘James has been smoking weed his whole life, I’ve known him since I was 17, he’s all about cannabis, so I know he’s not going to give me poison.’”

“These shops are just interested in making money, and they don’t have any regulation, so I don’t trust them.”

“Unfortunately, Nassau County mostly opted out [of adult-use sales]. If you can’t trust the local plug, you better get on that grow-your-own train. And nothing is ever as good as the cannabis you grow yourself. That’s what I say to people: start preparing for that, make a little stink about why that’s not allowed yet, and why are there illegal dispensaries around but not legal ones?”

“For now, you may have to take a little drive over to Suffolk or Queens, or get delivery from there.”

On finding community, great flower and next-generation farmers

“My company is a brand built around educating and building community in cannabis. What we do is support small cannabis farms all over. We started this brand in Northern California, because we thought that’s where the best education was at the time, so we could bring back valid information to New York as it comes online. Since then, we’ve met farmers here with their own history who were also growing during prohibition, like me, but on their own land, and they have stories we want highlight.”

“We found one or two Black farms, which is about the average for any state we look in. We always want to highlight that and see if we can interest Black youth in farming. It’s not something you see every day in the projects or in our communities. It makes sense that, if we don’t own land and nobody’s teaching us farming, we can’t suddenly expect people to be out here as a huge part of the cannabis community. What we have to do is support the ones who do know how to farm, and find people who do want to be part of the legal industry.”

“My company is about featuring small farms and elite cannabis. And I’m pretty sure Long Island has a history, and that we want to bring some of that to the city so that some of our Brooklyn clients can try some of this great Long Island cannabis. Just like out of Rochester and Hudson Valley. That’s the goal: to find the best cannabis in the world, one small farm at a time.”

“Locally, the Long Island CAURD Coalition, Hydro Phonics, Claudine Farms, Electraleaf, Nightshade Farm, and Open Minded Organics are just a few of the people on Long Island who we’re already working with. All their products use sun-grown, organic, amazing cannabis. If you read the label, and it says Open Minded Organics, you know you can trust the ingredients.”


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